Key Takeaways

  • The western Michigan senior center moved to a new, state-of-the-art building in 2022, funded by a private/public partnership.

  • Known as a center for active aging, the senior center offers popular fitness activities for participants of all activity levels.

  • Among the center's offerings: dementia caregiver support, self-defense classes, and wine tastings. On tap: education on sexual health and healthy relationships.

The Portage Zhang Senior Center (PZSC) is a remarkable facility located at the heart of the City of Portage in western Michigan. As a center for active aging, it offers a diverse range of programs and opportunities that foster personal growth, health, friendship, and independence for adults age 50 and over.

"We are proud to be owned and operated by the City of Portage, which provides an annual subsidy to help cover operational costs," said Kim Phillips, PZSC Director of Senior Center Services. "In addition, we raise funds through membership fees, program fees, travel programming, grants, special fundraising events, and the Friends of the Portage Senior Center.

We are enthusiastic about serving our community and providing a positive and welcoming environment for all."

What is the history of the Portage Zhang Senior Center?

The Portage Senior Center was established by the City of Portage in 1979 and began operating at its previous location in 1982. In 2022, the center moved to a new, 36,000-square-foot facility constructed through a public/private funding effort. A group of dedicated city staff and community members raised half the $12 million to build a new state-of-the-art Charles and Lynn Zhang Portage Community Senior Center.

Completing the $12 million fundraising campaign to build and open the newly expanded facility was one of the highlights of the center’s history. Remarkably, the building design and groundbreaking took place during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Portage Zhang Senior Center

The new facility, now known as the Portage Zhang Senior Center, includes a fitness center, an open café space with a welcoming fireplace, indoor pickleball courts, and expanded rooms for programming. 

Who comes to the Portage Zhang Senior Center? 

The center welcomes adults age 50 and over to join the PZSC community.  Portage residency is not required to become a member of the senior center.

"About 55% of our members are Portage residents, while the remaining come from surrounding communities, Phillips said. "The move to the new facility in 2022 has sparked tremendous growth in participation and membership. Previous membership averaged 1,400 members annually, but now membership stands at approximately 3,700. We are excited to continue expanding our community!"

What goes on at Portage Zhang Senior Center? 

Fitness offerings are a major draw to the PZSC. Whether it’s the fitness center, pickleball, or an organized class, there are opportunities for people of every activity level. This even includes a new fitness program for people with Parkinson's disease.

The center hosts a variety of social interest and recreational groups. Musical performances have also become popular. The PZSC recently offered a mass wedding vow renewal event officiated by an Elvis impersonator.  

What's next for the Portage Zhang Senior Center? 

The PZSC is partnering with local organizations to provide support and resources for people with dementia and their care partners. A monthly Memory Café helps provide caregiver support and respite. Beginning in 2024, staff will also be working to offer dementia education workshops for local organizations to better serve people in the community. 

What's unique about the Portage Zhang Senior Center?

The staff at PZSC take pride in stating that their senior center is different from traditional senior centers. Our programming team works very hard to present innovative and creative programs that go beyond the usual offerings. Programs range from health education to self-defense and provide opportunities to socialize with peers.

In 2023, the PZSC applied for and received a license to sell and serve alcohol. This has opened up fun opportunities for tastings and other programmatic happenings. This year, PZSC staff are working on extending educational opportunities on sexual health, healthy relationships, and more. 

What does modernizing mean to Portage Zhang Senior Center?

"Modernizing senior centers involves more than just updating the physical facility. It requires changing our approach toward supporting today’s more active older adults," Philips said. "It's important to recognize that not all older adults are the same. Treating them as a homogenous group can be a major mistake, as each person has unique needs, preferences, and abilities."

She said it's key to take the time to understand and cater to  individual differences, and doing so can greatly improve the quality of life for older adults. In terms of operations, Phillips said modernizing also means adopting a new approach to funding.

"The traditional methods are no longer sustainable, so centers must explore new and creative ways to achieve financial sustainability."

Still not a member of the National Institute for Senior Centers? Join today, membership is free. 

If your center has completed a recent study or assessment or is trying out some new programming approaches, we’d love to hear about it. And if you haven't already, we'd encourage you to join the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Free to all senior centers (and their personnel), NISC supports senior centers with best practices and innovations in programming, as well as networking and training opportunities. Ask for help, leverage NISC resources, or share your successes like the Portage Zhang Senior Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today. 

Photos courtesy Portage Zhang Senior Center